• Thu
  • Nov 27, 2014
  • Updated: 11:23pm

Chinese real estate tycoon couple reject criticism of Harvard University donation

Husband-and-wife founders of Soho China say their US$15 million scholarship will help only Chinese students from poor families secure a place at prestigious United States university

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 7:00pm

The Chinese real estate tycoon couple who founded Soho China have brushed aside criticism of their donation to Harvard University by saying that it would be helping to fund only students from poor Chinese families.

Zhang Xin, chief executive of Soho China and her husband Pan Shiyi, the chairman, were caught up in controversy after they signed an agreement with the prestigious United States university to donate US$15 million (about HK$116 million) to set up a “Soho China Scholarship” to help Chinese students study at Harvard.

Some internet users questioned why the couple, who set up the prime office development company in 1995, did not donate the money to Chinese universities and accused them of “forgetting their roots”.

Zhang responded on her official Sina Weibo webpage, saying that the couple’s intention was to help more impoverished Chinese students go to top universities in the US.

“If Harvard has accepted you, being poor will no longer be a barrier,” Zhang said on Weibo yesterday.

She also said she had been angry to see so many critical comments online, but later had “laughed them off”.

Pan also posted a response to the criticisms on his Weibo webpage on Wednesday, saying that the fund would help only those students from poor Chinese families.

News of the couple’s donation to Harvard has sparked fierce online discussion on China’s social media.

While some internet users have applauded the couple’s initiative, others called the couple “traitors” – questioning why they had not directly donated money to impoverished families in the Chinese rural areas, where communities often lack basic teaching facilities.

Some internet users also asked how plausible it is for destitute students to secure places at Harvard.

“I only want to tell China’s entrepreneurs: think about children in China’s West,” one user posted on Weibo. “[They] don’t have enough food and have no shoes to wear in winter. For those students who study abroad, which of their families doesn’t have connections or money?”

In an earlier posting on her Weibo webpage, Zhang had revealed that she and her husband would donate money to other elite US universities, too.

“Harvard is the first university that we cooperated with,” Zhang said. “We are discussing with many universities.”

The couple are currently in America spending time visiting a number of top US universities, including Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, best known as MIT, as well as the headquarters of Apple and Facebook, posts on their Weibo pages showed.

Soho China was successfully listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on October 8, 2007.

In March the South China Morning Post reported that Soho China posted better-than-expected record earnings for the previous 12 months as its core net profit rose 33 per cent year-on year to 4.44 billion yuan (HK$5.6 billion).


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This article is now closed to comments

I think the couples are great, clever and intelligent to make money in China and help America. Like most of us HKers making money in China but stick to our core values and fend off vigorously against CCP values. China Universities including Beida and Qinghua suck because they're all under CCP control - no liberal thinking, no education freedom, no freedom of speech....I always tell my close China friends (some of them are senior cadres) that as long as each Uni in China has a CCP secretary in charge, China will never have first class Uni's. And, they all agree.
The same applies to HK Universities. As long as the chairmen of University committees are CCPCC...etc, HK will never have first class Uni's. Being a HKer, it' sad but true.
Kudos to Zhang Xin and husband Pan Shiyi for donating money to Harvard to further studies of impoverished Chinese families (and standing up to criticisms). It's their money and they can do exactly what they want with it. Besides, the pair have donated tens of millions to other causes as well so they need not defend their actions. Their actions speak a thousand words. Any other talk is cheap.
Unfortunately Harvard and the other "elites" only want children of connected CCP officials (Bo MelonMelon or Xi Jinping's daughter, anyone?) or someone like the kid of Jack Ma (should he have one) so they can get further inroads in setting up China campuses and other business ventures that will guarantee future endowments, etc.
Ant Lee
The fact is almost all chinese leaders and businessmen send their children overseas and maintain a base outside China (whether in their names or not). But inside China (and now starting in Hong Kong), they censor western news (you bet TVB is already doing it!) and brainwash their people thinking the Western worlds are their enemies and should not be influenced by the West. Interesting to note TVB news recently ran a 5 min half-truth story about how great a leader Putin is.
ngsw- I'm afraid things are not so simple in China. One of my close family members tried donating HKD 10 mIllion to set up a scholarship to assist poor Chinese students to attend a top Chinese university. Initially they welcomed us with open arms but when it comes to the fine print, they want the majority of annual endowment to go the teachers first with a relatively small part of the annual endowment going to students. They argued with great conviction that the teachers should be rewarded first since without the good teachers, the poor students would have no chance of advancing their studies and future careers in life..... I can understand the dilema faced by Pang and Zhang. I would give them the benefit of doubt, they probably have their own reasons for donating their money to Harvard and the like in the US to help poor chinese students to advance their studies abroad.
'Sad but true'? Rubbish. Your prejudices are not facts. According to the Times Higher Education rankings, HKU is 43 in the world's ranking of universities, Tsinghua at 45, Peking University at 50 (same as Boston), HK University of Science and Technology at 57. Do some research before saying things like this.
Correct, as you say: 43, 45, 50, 57
There is virtually no legal infrastructure for managing grants and endowments to education in China. If this couple had given the funds to a Chinese university, netizens would criticize them for being fools, as the funds would end up in someone's pocket. Can't win here. Anyway, charitable giving in China is very low as a proportion of income not because people are not compassionate, but because the current set up is full of disincentives for doing so.
Not just Havard, the scheme should cover other top universities for Chinese students.
anitalui- totally agree with you.Please read my comments to ngsw's postings above.
With all top Chinese universities monitored by CCP party secretaries, there could not be truly first class universities in China.


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